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Understanding wrongful termination

As an employee’s career progresses, sometimes he or she finds a great fit and stays for years without incident. In other situations, he or she may be terminated without warning and not know what to do next. If the employee is fired for an illegal reason, it is called wrongful termination and the employee has options to address it under the law.

Wrongful termination

In California, employment is “at will” meaning that an employer can terminate an employee at any time, except when the reason for the firing is against the law. These include firing an employee for being a whistleblower, for discriminatory reasons, asking an employee to commit an illegal act or constructively discharging the employee.

A whistleblower is a person who reports suspected illegal employment activity or activity that violates company policy. This includes reports made to government entities or law enforcement. Discrimination can include firing the employee for their race, sex, religion, disability, pregnancy, age or other protected category.

If an employer constructively discharges an employee, it means that the employment environment was so intolerable that a reasonable person would not be able to continue working there. The employee believes, based on the employer’s actions, that he or she has no other option but to leave.

If an employee is asked to commit an illegal act and is fired for not complying, he or she may also have a claim for wrongful termination. Illegal acts may include acts of violence against other people, demands to embezzle funds or other crimes, for example.

If an employee believes he or she was wrongfully terminated, an experienced attorney can offer guidance.